Of course, it had to be a goalie. Of course, he had to be the man who won the golden glove this season of the Indian Super League (ISL). Vishal Kaith dove to the right of him, Bruno Ramires hit him at the exact height goalkeepers love, and Kaith’s giant glove brushed him aside.
That was the third shot for Bengaluru FC, and the score now stands at 2-2 in the penalty shootout. The same score that the two teams had been tied for the last 35 minutes of regulation time plus extra time for this match. Kiyan Nassiri moved up to take third from ATK Mohun Bagan; and quietly sent Gurpreet Singh Sandhu down the wrong path. 3-2.
So much so, in fact, that in the end ATK Mohun Bagan didn’t even need to take the fifth shot: Pablo Perez sent his attempt to row Z, the final score being ATK Mohun Bagan 4 – 3 Bengaluru FC. The man who was supposed to kick the fifth, Captain Pritam Kotal, said simply: “I always thought Vishal would save one or two.”
This is the fourth ISL trophy for ATK owner Sanjiv Goenka. As the owner of ATK Mohun Bagan, it’s the first… and the last: Goenka announces on live TV that the team will be called the Mohun Bagan Super Giants next season.
Call them what you want though. This is what they do. Gain.
It’s what they’ve done all season: and it’s what they did for 130 odd minutes here in the final. Dimi Petratos took three penalties (two in regulation time, one in a shootout), placing them all to his bottom left and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu diving correctly on all three occasions, and was unable to do anything about it. same corner. Same (more or less) height. Same rhythm. Same result.
His first penalty came in minute 14, the second in minute 85. 1-0. 2-2. Interspersed in between this was a rather peculiar game: sometimes it was tilted in favor of Bengaluru, sometimes Bagan, most of the time neither.
The game had gotten off to a dramatic and painful start: Sivasakthi Narayan collided with a pair of maroon and green clad bodies, had to be carried off on a stretcher. Which meant an early introduction for one Sunil Chhetri. Chhetri’s face was pale on the side, she looked at Sivasakthi’s bleeding nose; and the team seemed completely baffled. It doesn’t look good against a team that is adept at sniffing out any weaknesses.
Launched from the start (and fit for only 54 minutes) Ashique Kuruniyan intimidated, annoyed and stretched a Bengaluru side that wasn’t ready for him. The first penalty came from the pressure he put on Roy Krishna (a pretty dumb hand); and he was at the heart of everything decent Bagan did in the first half. But they barely rose above decent.
They didn’t have to, because neither did Bangalore. In a game of attrition, it was Krishna’s cunning that made the difference: he should have won a penalty kick when Pritam Kotal kicked him instead of the ball after he sneaked up on him, and won one when Subashish Bose kicked him. instead. off the ball he also slipped out of the shadows to head home at the back post to give Bengaluru the lead.
But how do you stop the inevitable?
The thirty minute extra time was an exercise in restraint on Bagan’s part; several players at various points asking the others to calm down. Those thirty minutes exemplified why they had gotten to where they did: Bengaluru had the ball, but in areas without any danger. When they got the ball, Bagan did nothing with it. Playing penalties, playing to take this game to the stage of the penalty shootout, that moment of the game where those who best handle the pressure shine. When the inevitable does its thing.
None of his players seemed to be missing. Not Petratos (which never fails). Not Kiyan (the inexperience of youth nullified by his talent, and the self-confidence of this team). Not Liston Colaco (who had had a horrible season, the kind where they miss crucial penalties towards the end, but his nerves were intertwined with the certainty that this team goes through)
“It’s the character of our team,” Bagan coach Juan Ferrando said after the game. “Character, that’s the most important thing in football.”
After the match, Bengaluru manager Simon Grayson would say that his team had not had “the rests you need in these kinds of (big) games”, and in the end that was what it was all about. Bagan got the breaks, Bagan had the “character” to take the breaks, Bagan won the match, Bagan won the cup.
After all, Ferrando was breaking down the game tactically, talking about the minor and major issues they faced, but ending his response with a big smile and an “ah, that’s it, we’re the champions!”
This is just what they do. Super. Giant. Inevitable… Champions.